For years women in Mogadishu have been on the side-lines in the fight against al-Shabaab, but more recently they have begun to play a more active role by providing critical information about suspicious activity and people to security agencies, officials told Sabahi.
Women are an untapped resource and could play a more decisive role in defeating al-Shabaab, but have been so far underused in security efforts, said Jawahir Barqab, the director of the Benadir Women's Association, a Mogadishu-based non-governmental organisation that works to advance women's issues such as equal representation in politics and job opportunities.
Barqab said her organisation has been trying to change that situation since last December by facilitating the collaboration of security agencies with civilian women, and training women on how to monitor and report suspicious activities in their neighbourhoods.
"[So far] we have trained about 500 women who are reporting if they witness suspicious activity that could jeopardise [public] safety. We have also established a women's group in each of the 17 districts of Benadir region to manage security and cleaning efforts in the districts," Barqab told Sabahi.
The women, selected with the help of district commissioners, underwent a three-week training on the basics of what to look for when monitoring for suspicious activity, and how to use mobile text messages to report information, she said.
Barqab said the programme has been a success so far with trainees aiding security forces with actionable information that helped foil attacks and apprehend suspects. However, she said, more women are needed to join the fight against al-Shabaab to ensure security.
As responsible members of their communities, women should report anyone who appears willing to endanger the public, even if that person is her own brother or son, she said, adding that mothers should pay particular attention to their teenage sons to make sure they are not falling prey to al-Shabaab.
"A mother should befriend her son and observe his activities and every step he takes especially when he is going to school or going out of town," Barqab said. "She has to guard him against being brainwashed, which would lead him to inflict harm on the public."
Al-Shabaab militants value their distorted ideology more than anything and will not show mercy to their own relatives, she said. "If you hide them today, they will just kill you tomorrow. Therefore, it is better if you hand them over to the police so that you can save yourself, save your family and save the public in general," she warned women.
Warta Nabada District Commissioner Hussein Nur Issa said district security officials are now actively using the women trained by the programme and that their reports have saved lives.
"I greatly welcome these [training] efforts, and we have really taken advantage of them. The women have given us information on people who were engaged in destabilising actions such as planning explosions or preparing to assassinate a person, and we captured those people," Issa told Sabahi. "We have arrested individuals who came from regions far away and who were sent by al-Shabaab to create chaos in the city during Ramadan. This came about as a result of the women's efforts as they provided a lot of intelligence."
He called on the general public to develop a working relationship with the security agencies, especially with the police so that their security can be ensured and they can live in peace. Progress in the security situation in Benadir region and the rest of Somalia cannot be achieved without collaboration from the public, he added.
Government should provide incentives to women
Colonel Sharif Hassan Robow, who served in the National Security Service, Somalia's intelligence agency during the Mohamed Siad Barre regime, said al-Shabaab's actions can be prevented and Somalia can attain lasting stability if the government invests in types of efforts spearheaded by civilian women.
"The efforts of the women are great, but the government has to encourage those people and pay them so that they can forward accurate information," Robow told Sabahi.
"If the people who share information about al-Shabaab receive a monetary incentive and receive proper training on collecting intelligence, it will result in al-Shabaab's defeat," he said. "However, if there is no incentive, no one will volunteer information."
For her part, Fadumo Osman, a 22-year-old from Mogadishu's Hodan district, said she welcomes the news that women are working with security agencies on safeguarding security. However, she said, more women would consider joining if the government would take responsibility for their safety and promise the prosecution of any al-Shabaab member arrested as a result of their reports.
"If that promise is given, I would take part in these efforts myself," she told Sabahi. "My only worry is [if] al-Shabaab members who the women report [to police] are released back to the streets. [This] could result in many women being killed [by al-Shabaab in retaliation] and losing their lives that way."
"We are always ready to work for the security of our country so that Somalia can once again stand on its own feet. That can only come about if al-Shabaab and all the people who support them are eliminated from the country," she added.